It makes me uncomfortable when I hear someone say that God told them to do say this or that or to do this or that. Because someone uses “God talk,” we quite naturally give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that God did actually speak through them. Red Flags automatically rise their heads when I hear the haughty use God to play power games over the pusillanimous. It depends on what God is supposed to have told them. Let’s look a little deeper.
TYPES OF GOD TALK
I. INDIVIDUAL INTERPRETATION When I say, “In my Lectio Divina today, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me this or that about Scriptures,” can that actually happen? For sure. This is called individual interpretation, when your heart is next to the heart of Christ and you come away with an idea or a thought that you did not have before. On this level, who is to say your are wrong? After all, the Spirit moves moves in mysterious ways and I, for one, don’t want to limit the Spirit based on my personal bias. This is why my interpretation of what Scripture means might be different from what it actually means. Most people who quote single sentence Scriptures do so to actually humiliate you or prove you wrong. This is a subtle form of idolatry, you presume to speak for God. The problem comes when my God meets your God and they don’t agree. I try not to respond to this type of individual intrepretation by thinking of the motive behind it.
The danger of individual interpretation is that we believe that we are the ONLY person who has the gift of discernment about Scripture. Rather than use Scripture to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and act accordingly, we take a single phrase, such as: You must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. Here is the full text from Scriptures.
John 3 New (NRSVCE)
Nicodemus Visits Jesus3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b] 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h] 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[i]
There is a difference in God speaking to you and you speaking for God. As an individual, you only speak for yourself and for the duration of your lifetime. You are not authorized to speak for the Church Universal. One of the untended consequences of the Protestant Reformation is that there is no authority to speak for the Church, only for your personal intrepretation. Want to guess why there are so many religions out there? Every is there own Church. If you don’t like what someone says, you can start your own Church.
II. THE CHURCH SPEAKS FOR GOD Anyone can speak for God. Who is to say you are wrong? The questions I always ask is, “Who gave you the authority to be God’s speaker?” Christ Himself gave authority through St. Peter to speak for the Church. St. Peter as in individual speaks for himself. The Pope today, Pope Francis, when he speaks as an individual, speaks for himself. When he speaks for the Church as teacher, servant of the servants of God, he does so for all of us. Can Pope Francis make a mistake. You bet. We are not talking about individual interpretation, but as one who represents the Church Universal. Our bishop, Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Most Reverend William Wack, C.S.C. (he is belongs to the Congregation of the Holy Cross) as teacher of the Faith in this diocese, speaks only for this diocese in matters of Faith and Moral, guiding us to love others as Christ loves us.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT GOD SPEAK
God speak makes me uncomfortable. People who seem to be haughty and close-minded seem to be the ones who always seem to use God talk. They don’t care what you say or even listen to what you say. They phrase every sentence with “God told me,” or “The Holy Spirit told me to tell you this.” Of course, I don’t want to discount the Holy Spirit, and those God-Speakers count on your reluctance to challenge them. Once I judge that their motive is to tell me the truth because God told it to them, I usually come back with the opposite of what they are saying, such as “God told me that someone would come to the door and try to seduce me with evil world and that I should not listen to them. They will often reply that “they alone have the truth.” I ask them, “do you think it is wrong of me to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what He says?” Silence. Always silence.
The Second Commandment is “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.” God speak is vain speaking which is why I don’t do it. It is intended to be a way to say that they have authority and you don’t. If you use God speak to prop yourself up over others, that is called pride,, and guess what the Original Sin was?
III. LAY CISTERCIANS– All Lay Cistercians are attached to an Abbot or Abbess somewhere. Each Monastery is subject to the will of the Abbot or Abbess who takes the place of Christ for the monks and nuns, as well as Lay Cistercians. We take promises of stability, or being subject to the authority of the Abbot or Abbess. We all have individual interpretations of Sacred Scriptures, Lectio Divina meditations and hopefully contemplations, and doing the will of God. The point is, this will of God is personified by one person, someone who is authorized to care for the spiritual well being of monks (nuns and Lay Cistercians) under their care. The point is, that it is not me. Chapter 4 of the RB (Rule of Benedict) states that those under the care of the Abbot or Abbot (including Lay Cistercians), must use humility and obedience in the context of Faith must treat the Abbot or Abbess as if Christ Himself was giving the teaching or correction to behavior. This is God speaking through an authorized person not God speak as an individual against the Church Universal.
The Holy Spirit speaks to whomever He wills.
No one can say Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit.
Individuals receive the Holy Spirit in their prayers and contemplation in the midst of the Church.
God speak is an abberation of God’s aurhority that tried to Lord it over others.
Speaking with God is not the same as Speaking for God.
There are false teachers out there who are not authorized to speak for God.
They try to seduce the Faith because of their claim to speak for God.
When we all approach the Mystery of Faith in humility and obedience to God’s will through the authorized leaders, we are in awe that God would even take the time to grace us with His Real Presence in Eucharist and Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
The Rule of St. Benedict is a good guide to discern who is from God and who speaks for God.
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen –Cistercian doxology
Having said all this, I do so as one speaking only for myself and not for any Lay Cistercian group or Cistercian spirituality. These are my thoughts that come from Lectio Divina, nothing more. This is individual intrepretation and hopefully not bad God speak.